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05 May, 2008

The Phantom Drummer of Tedworth

I often wonder how many witnesses to paranormal phenomena fail to report their experiences, for fear of being ridiculed. I kept my own paranormal experiences to myself for many years, for precisely that reason. Now, I've reached an age where I couldn't care less if people mock, or disbelieve me. I've also wondered if people were more accepting of paranormal accounts in earlier times. My recent research into British paranormal events, suggests that scepticism was already rife by the seventeenth century, as was derision directed towards anyone reporting paranormal encounters. The story of the Phantom Drummer of Tedworth illustrates how attitudes towards the paranormal began to change in seventeenth century Britain, as people abandoned superstition and embraced scientific inquiry.

The origins of the Phantom Drummer of Tedworth story can be traced back to March 1661. John Mompesson was a magistrate from Tedworth, a small town in Wiltshire, which is in the south-west of England. Whilst visiting the nearby small town of Ludgerhall, Mompesson was disturbed by a loud drumming in the street outside. The culprit was identified as William Drury, a vagrant who had arrived in the town a few days earlier. Drury had been attempting to get public assistance (an early form of welfare), using documentation apparently endorsed by two well-respected magistrates. Authorities suspected Drury's documentation was a forgery.

Mompesson summoned Drury before him, and soon established the documents to be counterfeit. The magistrate confiscated the drum and imprisoned Drury. Drury pleaded for the drum's return, but to no avail. He later escaped custody, but was unable to retrieve his drum. Mompesson returned home to Tedworth and thought no more of the incident, until the bailiff at Ludgershall sent him the confiscated drum. It arrived as Mompesson was embarking upon a trip to London.

He arrived home three days later, to find the house in utter chaos. For the previous three nights, the interior and exterior of his house had been plagued by violent bangs and knocking. When Mompesson first heard the rumpus for himself, he raced to the room where the noise was located, brandishing a pistol, but found nothing. The noise had relocated to another room by this time. Puzzled, he retired to his bed, and was amazed to hear steady drumbeats amongst the din.

The noise continued unabated for the next two months. When Mrs. Mompesson gave birth to a new baby, the noise stopped for three weeks. This seeming respect for the mother and baby's peace and quiet led some investigators to speculate that the entity responsible was mischievous, rather than malevolent. When the disturbances resumed, they focused on the two older Mompesson children, two girls. Drumbeats resounded around their beds, and the children and their beds were frequently levitated. The Mompessons relocated their daughters to an attic room, but the drummer simply followed them. When the distraught parents asked the local minister to say some prayers to protect the girls, the disrespectful entity became even noisier. It made scratching noises suggestive of giant rats, and emitted an unholy, sulphurous stink. The smell was interpreted as a message from the spirit - that it came from hell itself.

The situation progressively deteriorated over the next two years, as the spirit appeared to turn malevolent. Objects moved by themselves and were hurled at witnesses. Terrible stenches pervaded the whole house. Disembodied voices were heard, as well as animal noises, such as cats purring and dogs panting. The children and servants witnessed shadowy, ghostly figures in the house. Other disturbances included lit candles floating around the hearth, coins being jingled by invisible hands before turning black, the burning of a bible, eerie lights appearing around the house, and doors opening and slamming shut by themselves. The poor children continued to be tormented by the entity, which pinched them, and persisted in levitating them from their beds. It developed the particularly disgusting habit of emptying the contents of chamberpots onto clean beds. An unfortunate servant awoke in the night to find a dark, shadowy form at the end of the bed, staring at him with red, glowing eyes.

John Mompesson himself was also targeted by the entity. He awoke one night, much like the servant, to find himself staring into two huge eyes, attached to a vague, dark figure.His poor horse didn't escape unscathed either. Mompesson entered his stable one day, to find the poor horse lying on its back, with one of its hind hooves jammed into its mouth. The hoof had to be eased out with a lever. Determined to discover the culprit, the Mompessons scattered ashes around the floors of their home. To their horror, the next morning they discovered claw marks, circles and unidentified lettering etched into the ash-strewn floors.

By now, news had travelled widely of the poltergeist-type presence at the Tedworth residence. Rumours abounded that the Mompessons were being punished for wicked deeds. The family was now a source of gossip and derision. The story reached the ears of a local clergyman, the Reverend Joseph Glanvil. He arrived at the house to investigate the phenomenon. Glanvil documented the case in his book, Sadiucismus Triumphatus. He claimed to have heard some of the animal noises and drumming occurring around the children's beds, although many people were of the opinion that the children themselves were responsible for hoaxing the noises. Glanvil also reported that he was present when the entity spoke for the first time. He heard it repeatedly shout: 'a witch, a witch!' According to Glanvil, his poor horse was also literally frightened to death by the entity, shortly after he first arrived at the house.

William Drury, the vagrant imprisoned by Mompesson in 1661, resurfaced in 1683. He was incarcerated at Gloucester jail, for stealing a pig. Drury apparently confessed to being responsible for summoning the entity at the Mompesson house. He was tried for witchcraft, found guilty, and transported. As soon as he left the country, peace returned to the Tedworth home of John Mompesson. However, it was to be short-lived. Drury somehow managed to escape his fate and return to England - whereupon the entity at the Mompesson house resumed its terror campaign. It is claimed that Mompesson asked the entity if Drury was responsible for its presence, and it replied in the affirmative.

Unfortunately, no record exists to confirm how and when the phenomenon ceased, although it had fallen quiet when Glanvil wrote about it, some twenty years later. Nevertheless, irreparable damage had been caused to Mompesson's reputation, with Glanvil noting that the magistrate 'suffered by it in his name, in his estate, in all his affairs'.

It is difficult to judge now, almost four hundred years after the event, whether there was any substance to the tale of the Phantom Drummer of Tedworth. Perhaps it happened just as Glanvil described. Or perhaps he was duped by the Mompessons, who, for whatever reason, decided to stage a hoax at their home. Maybe there is some truth to the tale, but perhaps Glanvil embellished it, to make his written account more sensational. But it's interesting to note that Mompesson suffered a similar fate to modern-day experiencers who report paranormal events. He was treated with suspicion and derision, and accused of falsehood. As a magistrate, he was expected to be above reproach, so any slur on his character would have automatically ruined his career. Would a man of such standing really have risked his reputation, career and estate by perpetrating a hoax?

Given that very little seems to have changed over the course of four hundred years, for those brave - or foolish - enough to report paranormal events, it's no surprise that many witnesses insist on anonymity, or keep their experiences to themselves. Just how many paranormal events are concealed from the wider world, because witnesses fear the adverse consequences of reporting them? Unless attitudes change, the answer to this question will remain as much a mystery as the veracity of the Phantom Drummer story itself.


Anonymous,  3 June 2012 at 16:49  

Thank you very much. I am conducting a project on the drummer of Tedworth, and I found the information presented here very useful and reliable.

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